/movement dec 1 '17
On November 11th and 12th, the Perelman Building galleries were filled with a new sound: the pitter-pattering of tiny feet. This was PHLA’s Fathering Festival, a two-day event organized by the Fathering Circle in collaboration with several other fathering organizations based out of Philadelphia. Both fathers and their children, most of them below the age of 8, came to Philadelphia Assembled for workshops, discussions, art-making, play-time, and performances by PHLA collaborators. I sat down to talk with Billy Yalowitz, one of the event’s facilitators, and a founding organizer of the Fathering Circle, about the event and the forces driving recent work in fathering organizations.

Just over a year ago, the Fathering Circle set out bring together Philadelphia fathers to build a network of mutual support and community to support fathers to engage in caring, equitable, nonviolent parenting in solidarity with mothers and other parenting partners. Founded by Billy Yalowitz together with Eric Marsh and Les Rivera, the group wanted to do this in a society that often places little faith in a father’s ability to be a skillful parent. “What is lacking is a supportive tradition among fathers,” says Billy. “The way males are raised in these societies doesn’t prepare us to be the kinds of parents that we really want to be.” They hold Listening Circles between fathers about their own experiences growing up, as well as parenting tool workshops. The Fathering Circle is unique among fathering organizations by in their pro-feminist approach and focus on parenting and the family as a site for liberation for women, men, and children.

Another element that sets them apart is their arts-based approach to their work. They premiered their first movement-based performance piece, “I See You,” at the Fathering Festival. The piece, choreographed by dancer, choreographer, and early-childhood educator Marion Ramirez, emerged from movement-based improvisation by fathers and their children. The children in the piece were quite young - their ages ranged from 10 months to 8 years old - but there was no doubt that they knew what they were doing, and the performance became a manifestation of trust and collaboration between the adults and the children. “I was inspired by the collaborative quality of the process and the fathers’ willingness to be present, to be vulnerable, to listen to their children’s expressions, change states, and to allow their bodies and creativity to support their parenting practices,” says Marion. Built over the course of twelve meetings spanning over six months, they also created an improvisational score to be played along with the piece. Billy noted how the fathers learned how to “follow the children’s lead, to how they respond on a given day. By allowing for that, we created an improvisational piece. This combination of arts, personal reflection, and parenting skills is the intersection that we find a lot in our work.”

As a fairly new organization, the festival was an opportunity for the Fathering Circle to connect with other groups. “There are a lot of people who are doing good work on fathering in the city,” said Billy, “and we wanted to build a basis for a city-wide collaboration, not to reinvent the wheel, but in order to look at how there are lots of needs and lots of approaches to doing this work.” The Fathering Festival also included Daddy University, as well as Frontline Dads, Father’s Defense, and I Can Dads. Daddy University, Inc., is the region’s oldest male parenting organization providing training workshops, social services, and advocacy work. They’re known for their annual Father Daughter Dance, which this past year drew more than 600 participants. Frontline Dads is a group that offers support for African American fathers, single fathers, “at-risk” youth, and formerly incarcerated individuals for empowerment to be leaders in their communities. Father’s Defense was also present, a consulting agency that works specifically on child custody cases and child support.

These three organizations made up the Fathers’ Organizations Forum at the Festival. Billy spoke of the value of having conversations between organizations with a wide array of approaches and concerns around fathering. “They could see what we were doing, and it was great to be able to give them a platform as well.” Organizing through Philadelphia Assembled has been a unique experience for the Fathering Circle, both as a place to connect, and as a place to create art. Billy described the value of being able to to make ties with both individual fathers and the other organizations. As a community-based artist and playwright, they found the experience to be different and exciting. “Getting to do a site-specific performance piece was really great for us, and for the young people,” says Billy. “We were able to use the sculptures and art pieces that were in place, and the idea of radical welcome has been really true for us. We had two-year-olds in art galleries running around! It’s been really fun to have an art museum like this, a fairly elite institution, to welcome us to occupy their space with them.”

Isabella Siegel, November 2017
Philadelphia assembled Mobile version